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Jackson water system getting $115 million for initial repairs, Biden announces

By Ashton Pittman - Mississippi Free Press

President Joe Biden, seen here in the Oval Office on August 2022 speaking with Jackson Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba about assisting Mississippi’s capital city amid the water crisis, announced an initial investment of $115 million to begin repairs on Jackson’s water system on June 6, 2023. Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

The City of Jackson is receiving an initial $115 million investment to repair its crisis-prone water system, the White House announced and The Grio first reported Tuesday.


“For years, the people of Jackson, Mississippi, have suffered the consequences of aging water infrastructure,” President Joe Biden said in a statement. “Last summer, the city’s water system reached a crisis point when a major flood aggravated longstanding problems in the system and left tens of thousands of people without any running water for days on end. Long before then, families in Jackson lived under the constant threat of boil water orders.


“All Americans deserve access to clean, safe drinking water. That’s why I directed my Administration to make sure the people of Jackson have the resources they need and deserve.”


The funds are part of a $600 million package Congress approved for Jackson that Biden signed into law in December 2022. In November 2022, a federal judge appointed Ted Henifin as interim third-party manager to oversee the operations of Jackson’s water system. Henifin, who is also overseeing the use of funds to repair the system, requested the initial $115 million for infrastructure improvements and leak repairs.


“Suddenly (last year) the job became doable with $600 million to work with,” Henifin said yesterday in Jackson at the Stennis Press Forum. “We just recently saw the first part of that: I applied for $115 million in grant money to deal with some of the early priority projects.”


Part of the money is already at work on leak repair, he added. “I’ve drawn down about $15 million already and spent that on leak repairs and engineering work that’s going on.”


The EPA said in a statement that the City will use the funds for “identifying and fixing leaks in the distribution system, developing a system-wide assessment of valves and hydrants, ensuring adequate pumping capacity to maintain water pressure and distribution, and developing a system stabilization and sustainability plan.”


“These funds will help stabilize and rebuild the city’s water system and make significant strides to provide reliable water service to people’s homes, schools, and businesses,” EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said in the statement. “As I’ve said since the onset of this crisis, we will continue to stand with the people of Jackson and work to resolve this longstanding issue together.”


The majority-Black capital city’s water system has long struggled to consistently provide reliable, clean water to its 150,000 residents.


Acute crises in 2021 and later in 2022 left residents without access to safe drinking water for weeks or months, drawing national headlines to the Jackson water crisis.


“This is an incredible milestone towards ensuring access to safe drinking water for the Jackson, Mississippi community,” said U.S. House Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, a Democrat who represents Mississippi’s 2nd Congressional District, including most of Jackson.


“It is a testament to the work Congress has done to provide this funding to Jackson through the bipartisan 2023 federal budget and is a first step in resolving the water crisis for the citizens of Jackson. The continued dedication and commitment of President Biden’s administration is essential and very much appreciated.”


In the EPA statement, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., called the move “great news for the city of Jackson and our state” and said that “last year’s prolonged water crisis showed us the urgent need for drinking water infrastructure improvements.”


The statement did not include comments from any other members of Mississippi’s congressional delegation, all of whom voted against the December 2022 bill that authorized the funds except U.S. House Rep. Mike Ezell, a South Mississippi Republican who was not in office until January 2023. U.S. House Rep. Michael Guest, a Republican whose district includes most of the wealthier parts of Jackson, voted against the legislation last year along with Republican Rep. Trent Kelly and Republican U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith.


Those who voted no cited opposition to the overall $1.7 trillion government funding bill it was part of, not to helping Jackson, however.


Jackson Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba thanked the Biden administration in the EPA statement “for standing with us and leading the way to ensure our community received the necessary funding that has been denied to us for so long.”


“These funds will help provide relief to Jackson residents who have suffered decades of water insecurity. This aid helps to restore dignity to our city,” he said.


In his statement Tuesday, Biden said the funds for Jackson are part of his “Investing in America Agenda” to ensure the nation’s water infrastructure “can withstand the impacts of the climate crisis.”


“Until all our children can safely drink water from the tap, our fight for clean water must, and will, continue,” the president said.


Nick Judin contributed to this report.


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